If you’re looking to dive into project based learning with your class but are having trouble finding the right projects, we’re here to help! We’ll looking at 10 project based learning ideas for 2020, featuring some of our favorite PenPals! All of these project based learning ideas come from exploring PenPal Schools topics, so you can bring these PBL ideas to your classroom!
1. Ask your students to analyze fake news
How does Fake News affect communities around the world? Challenge your students to think about the characteristics of exaggerated or disingenuous media and its potential effects on society. In Facts, Opinions and Fake News, students create a public service announcement where they inform others how to distinguish a credible news story from a disreputable one or ask them to write a fictional story imagining a world where people believe every news story they hear.
Back in March we published a post taking a look at the work of students from Sweden, Russia and the US who participated in Facts, Opinions and Fake News . These PenPals identified telltale signs of Fake news and provided examples from their communities.
“A fake news site in Sweden with a reputation for being extreme right wing is NyaTider. They usually bend the truth because they want people to think like them. For example, they exaggerate the migrant crisis in France.”
-Robbie B. from Sweden
"I'm worried about the false news about the domestic policy of my country. Russian news is aimed at foreign policy, thereby distracting the people from the internal political problems. People want to know what is happening in the country where they live."
-Darina M. from Russia
Read more from Darina, Robbie, and their classmates to learn how fake news impacts their communities and see more student work from Facts, Opinions, and Fake News.
2. Challenge students to read and discuss poetry - then write their own!
Our next project based learning example comes from A World of Poetry. Show your students both the intrinsic beauty of poetry and how it can be used to learn about other cultures. Students collaborate with PenPals from around the world to read poetry from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania and write original poems. By sharing their original poems with an authentic audience of global PenPals, students are able to get feedback from diverse perspectives. Often, PenPals organize poetry readings in their community or submit their poems for publication!
Interested in seeing more original poems by students? Take a look at this post where we highlighted some more of our favorite projects from A World of Poetry.
3. Ask students to learn about immigration by sharing their family histories
How does immigration affect your community and communities around the world? This is the question students explore in Immigration in the 21st Century. Challenge your students to discover how immigration impacts their communities and compare immigration stories from around the world. Alternatively, ask students to interview an immigrant or a person who works with immigrant communities, research famous immigrants who have had a positive impact on their community, design a poster that answers a central question about immigration or try their hand at writing immigration policy.
Back in March we celebrated the work of two students, Nikki and Kye from Thailand, who shared their families’ experiences with immigration. For example, Nikki interviewed her mother about how she moved to the U.S. to pursue medical training, then returned to Asia to provide care in the developing world.
1. Why did you move to the USA?
After finishing medical school in the Philippines, I moved to the US to pursue further training. I completed pediatric residency (3 years) and a pediatric infectious disease fellowship (3 years). After living for about 6 years in the US, I returned to the Philippines to work in international health in developing countries. I worked in other countries in Asia, as well as in Africa.
2. What was the process like? Was it hard to get a visa?
The first time I applied for a visa, my application was rejected by the US embassy. The feeling of rejection really hurts. The second time, I was lucky. The lines were very long at the US embassy and you have to get there very early and wait a long time. Now, they have an appointment system so the process is more streamlined. But still, a lot people who apply get rejected.
3. What was the biggest difference/culture shock for you?
The main thing that shocked me was the wastefulness. I left the Philippines after years of the Marcos dictatorship when the country was extremely poor. Working as a medical student in the government hospitals, there was little medicines available and even our prescription paper was recycled newsprint. During my internship in the US, I was shocked at the amount of paper being used, the junk mail I would receive, the large food servings and left-overs thrown out, the number of plastic bags used at the grocery stores, etc.”
-Nikki from Thailand
4. Inspire your students to create their own flags
There are even more project based learning examples from the topic Flags of the World. Classrooms across the globe are learning more about flags to better understand the countries, values, and movements they represent. In Flags of the World, students are tasked with understanding these core values and applying their knowledge to either design an original flag, tell the story behind an existing flag or create a flag quiz for their PenPals.
Take a look at more of the beautiful flags PenPals created!
5. Challenge your students to find solutions to environmental issues
Are people doing enough to ensure that the next generation has a healthy planet? In Protecting the Planet, challenge your students to answer that question by diving into an environmental project. Students can choose to research people and groups who advocate for the environment, create a public service announcement to educate their community about environmental issues or lead a service project that will have a positive impact on the local environment.
In this project based learning example, take a deep dive into the issue of coral bleaching. These PenPals from Italy, Malaysia, and the USA began by learning about the dangers of coral bleaching.
“I think that the bleaching of The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is a big problem for everybody. This phenomenon can cause the complete destruction of that ecosystem which is completely different from any other in the world. It's like cutting down every single tree in the Amazon Rainforest.”
– Mauro B from Italy
“I once read that ‘Once the coral is dead, the reefs will also die and erode, destroying important marine life spawning and feeding grounds.’ It is very true and if that happens, people like fishermen, cashiers and store owners could lose their jobs. It's all because the coral reefs died, causing the fish to die, so there are no fish for anyone who eats ocean fish to eat, even animals! This affects the food chain and is why we should try help stop the coral reef bleaching.”
– Amani A from United States
Once they had a solid understanding of the problem, PenPals began brainstorming solutions.
“We can convince more people to care about coral reefs by holding programs about the importance of coral reefs and organizing diving activities so that people can see the beauty of coral reefs at the bottom of the sea. Many people can appreciate the unique creation of God.”
– Magdalena E from Malaysia
“I think that if people created more articles, movies, and games that talk and explain the dangers of coral bleaching, then our tech-savvy community might acknowledge the extreme danger that coral reefs are in. The community we live in revolves their life around technology, and if we put more coral reef awareness in technology then people might notice and care.”
– Molly K from United States
Explore more environmental challenges through global project-based learning in Joining Forces for the Environment, too.
6. Take your students on a field trip to Pakistan…without leaving the classroom!
Ever wanted to take your students to the countries you teach them about? Thanks to virtual reality, your students can experience the colorful nation of Pakistan first hand in VR Field Trip to Pakistan. By walking the streets of Lahore and exploring the chambers of the Badshahi Mosque, students can look past headlines about terrorism and regional conflict to see Pakistan’s rich culture and history. Students can then choose to make make a series of postcards sharing memorable sites from the trip, plan an itinerary for a fictitious tour group visiting their country or create a VR field trip of their own community.
"The kids LOVE it! They love the ability to move the screen and see the other side of the world. I love that they are learning independently, even if they do not realize it. They are learning from technology and also their own curiosity is fueling more research!”
-Summer Smith, teacher from Mississippi, USA
"PenPal Schools give us the freedom to learn about different cultures and give us the magnificent experience to step outside our comfort zone and learn about other people and countries."
-Lauren, PenPal from Illinois, USA
Virtual reality is an engaging addition to project-based learning, and Pakistan isn’t the only country that students can visit through PenPal Schools! Be sure to check out VR Field Trip: USA, too!
7. Challenge your students to become fashion designers
Clothing reflects where you come from, who you surround yourself with and what cultures you celebrate. Students can learn a lot about other countries and communities by exploring international clothing and fashion trends. In Clothing and Culture of the World PenPals learn about traditional and modern clothing from various regions. They discuss how purpose and function influence clothing and how outfits adapt to different activities and environments. Then, PenPals share original fashion designs that reflect their unique styles.
We recently celebrated PenPals from Lithuania who created their own designs, like Rapolas who designed an outfit perfect for the spring weather.
Explore more original fashion designs from PenPals around the world.
8. Inspire your students to become artists, curators, and patrons of the arts
How does art inspire people to take political or social action? In The Power of Art students explore how artists around the world use their work to inspire change. By studying artists like Frida Kahlo, Marcel Duchamp, and Ai WeiWei, students discuss the impact artists have on the world. Then they construct an exhibit of existing works, discover local artists, or create their own masterpiece.
In this project based learning example we look at a selection of student artwork, including those of PenPals Hannah and Walran who created original pieces to share with each other!
“I usually work in mediums of writing, photography, and music; but since this project had to be inspired by someone we learned about, I chose to do a simple art project. Art is not my strong suit, so this is similar to a collage of images, like Andy Warhol's 32 Cans picture. contains 32 of the same object, just like Andy Warhol's piece of art. Warhol was "fascinated by the growth of commercial goods", and the object presented in this picture, the iPhone, is a commercial product that has grown immensely the past ten years. I feel like it kind of represents what our society is moving towards: technology. Warhol's picture of the soup cans was displayed less than ten years before an agriculture boom in the 1970's when Americans were, in general, eating more food. I enjoyed this unit with you, PenPals!”
-Hannah from Texas, USA
“I created my own picture using Picasso's Cubism.”
-Walran from New York, USA
Stroll through our online exhibit to see the kind of artwork this PBL idea can bring out in your students .
9. Entrust your students to show off their hometowns to the world
More project based learning ideas come from our most popular topic, World Explorer. In this topic students share the food, art, daily life, history, and pop culture of their community with PenPals around the world. After PenPals share information about their countries they can choose to create postcards for the different communities they studied, create a quiz to help others learn or plan for a trip around the world that visits ten of the countries explored during their project.
Avery O. from Springfield, Missouri did an exemplary job giving her PenPals a virtual tour of her hometown. She explained the city’s feel and culture, its contributions to American society (including Bass Pro Shop and Cashew Chicken), its history and its “weird and beautiful” art scene.
“Springfield is a very friendly and busy city. One thing we are great at is expressing how we feel through our art. All around the city and especially downtown there are beautiful murals and spray painted walls everywhere. Every one of them describes our city because they are always beautiful and weird. We have a lot of great local art shops all dealing in different types of art. One of these shops my aunt and uncle own. It’s called Springfield Pottery and they have gorgeous ceramic pieces that are all so different. I love there shop because they teach classes to many people from different ages and teach a lot of the students from the colleges nearby. It is such a great way to share art with people in the city and they also share their art with people out of the state when they go to shows and fairs.”
-Avery O. Missouri, USA
To see her tour in greater detail, check out this project based learning example in action.
10. Inspire your students to create their own holiday
What can studying holidays in different communities teach us about the world? In Holidays & Festivals of the World, students begin by learning collaboratively about religious holidays and secular holidays. Then they apply their knowledge by either designing a holiday Card, inventing a holiday or writing a holiday story.
By exchanging work with global PenPals, students enjoy constructive criticism, an authentic audience and an insider's view of other countries. Like all PenPal Schools topics, Holidays & Festivals of the World requires students to make individual choices and create an end product that is authentically their own.
One student who went above and beyond the requirements of this project was Bella B. from Frankfort Kentucky. Bella created “Everybody Matters Day,” a holiday that puts a new spin on February 14th. She explains:
“We’re trying to change the way people look at Valentine’s day. Either, great, you’re in a relationship and this day is for you, or you’re not and this day isn’t for you. Everybody matters, and we want all students to receive a kind note from someone in their class.”
-Bella from Kentucky, USA
Not only did Bella invent Everybody Matters Day and share it with her PenPals, but she also took the project one step further by meeting with the mayor of her town and making it official. Thanks to Bella’s efforts and Mayor May’s proclamation, Everybody Matters Day officially took place on February 14th, 2018 in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Bella’s story illustrates that when students are given choice over their work, they start to take ownership over their learning. Bella wanted to publically share her finished project, not only with her class and PenPals, but her community as a whole.
Everybody Matters Day was also celebrated by PenPals around the world! Check out more from our global celebration here.
By working on a meaningful project with a real audience students not only gain deep content knowledge but develop critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills as well. Moreover these projects are designed with global collaboration in mind, taking your project based learning unit to the next level.
We hope these examples inspire you to implement project based learning in your classroom. The easiest way to take your project-based learning global is to enroll in any PenPal Schools project.
For more information about implementing PBL in your classroom, take a look at our helpful guides: